’Tis the season to be . . . mean-spirited? vitriolic? self-serving? The well-known carol, as I remember it, includes the word jolly, but that is not so much what I am hearing lately, and certainly not what I’m reading in the papers.
It’s not surprising that as the economy continues to downturn and frustration and fear overtake our natural optimism, the blame game and the finger-pointing would predominate the airwaves and the opinion pages. Who should we blame for the bottom seeming to fall out from under us? Who is responsible for it?
The answer to those questions is no easier to decipher than the more important question of what can be done about it. But the answers abound, and none of them really make the problem any easier to understand nor bring satisfaction in finding a cure to our ills.
Not the culprits
Following is the usual list of the usual suspects at the national, state and local level who I resolve not to entertain as the culprits any longer:
-- Bill Clinton. Every good conservative radio and newspaper columnist has to start with our 42nd president. How have the “Rush’s of the Radio” existed without him? Well, in fact, they haven’t, as he still sits atop the list of those most responsible for our current crisis. And with Hillary as secretary of state (yet another similarity to the election of 1860; see my Sunday Gazette article for March 30, 2008), they’ll still have a Clinton to kick around.
I sort of hold him responsible myself. Responsible for getting us used to a balanced budget along with a thriving economy, with a confidence that the government would do us right. How dare he spoil us so!
-- FDR. He might be worse than Bill. He taught us to believe in the welfare state and gave us faith that when things went wrong, the government would bail us out. How dare he allow the government to provide jobs for the unemployed and secure our welfare in our old age? President-elect Obama better be very careful before he emulates such a failed policy.
-- Homeowners. At least those that secured loans that they couldn’t pay, thinking that the American Dream could be in their grasp. Who gave them such hope?
You guessed it — Bill Clinton. Weren’t they listening when they were told they couldn’t afford the dream? They were told, weren’t they?
-- State Workers. They’ve been kicked around enough. It certainly is a large work force in a large state with a huge payroll and appropriate benefits.
Many of them are your neighbors and mine. They didn’t go into public service to get rich and I doubt they are laughing all the way to the bank. Just trying to make a living doesn’t constitute a conspiracy, but I suppose it may generate some envy.
-- Mayor Stratton and the Schenectady City Council. I think it was the garbage fee that finally broke our backs. In the meantime, they raised our credit rating from high risk to Baa1, developed downtown Schenectady to a place of destination, and provided new businesses with the opportunity to invest in our city.
Yes, taxes are too high. I pay them too, but I like what I’m seeing as we at least now have the wherewithal to move to more prosperous times.
-- Police, Firefighters and Teachers. In 1967, the poverty level for a family of 4 was around $4,500. The starting salary for a teacher in this area was about $5,400.
There was no NYSUT but there was also no outcry from the general population to raise the pay of these necessary public servants. Firemen and policemen did no better. Many could not afford to live in the districts they worked in. Perhaps they’ve done well since then, but they certainly didn’t cause the current economic crisis and it’s demoralizing to constantly be criticized for making a living. Their pay being directly linked to our local taxes makes them an easy target. Perhaps a Wall street-like “correction” is needed, but caustic attacks are unfair and unnecessary.
-- Retirees. They worked all their lives and have a right to a comfortable retirement. In fact they paid for their retirement, many with their own money as well as employer contributions in lieu of wages. They are our own mothers and fathers and deserve what they’ve earned. Should they be sorry that they lived so long?
The trend is and should be to protect our seniors, not denigrate them. The great equalizer here is that we all retire someday and all will expect, or at least hope for, a comfortable old age in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
-- Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers. Well, by now you get the idea.
If we choose to concentrate on who to blame, we can spread it around pretty well. But let’s not do it to each other. We can legitimately look at Wall street, the Captains of Industry, the Bankers, 3 Men in a Room and greed.
But I’m choosing to look for solutions, not blame. And I refuse to peek through my window blinds to see where and how my neighbor is stashing away all his wealth at my expense.
There’s an old philosophical maxim called Occam’s Razor that states that the simplest of two or more competing theories is the preferable one, and that assumptions introduced to explain a theory should not be multiplied beyond necessity.
So, in the interest of finding solutions to the fiscal crisis we face in New York state, and in the interest of being true to my word, I propose the following solution for Gov. Patterson, the state Legislature, local government and all those who would stir the pot, pitting neighbor against neighbor, rather than deal with the crisis: A 10 percent cut across the board.
All departments, all sectors. No exceptions. No lines forming for exemptions. The administrators and their advisers will find ways to save their most valuable and necessary programs. And it would equalize the burden and save the finger-pointing. Let’s just get on with it.
Anthony Frank lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.